British Petroleum: Exterminator of the Future

British Petroleum: Exterminator of the Future

By Juan Luis Berterretche

Three weeks after President Barak Obama authorized the expansion of hydrocarbon and gas exploration off the US coast, a British Petroleum platform exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico releasing a huge and uncontrollable spout of oil. Experts say this "accident" may be more damaging than the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1) in Alaska.

On Wednesday, March 31 of this year, President Barak Obama released a new strategy for US offshore drilling, which expands exploration for oil and natural gas along the Atlantic coasts, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and northern Mexico. Alaska. Addressing the Republicans - based on lobbyists for the oil companies - who had been pressing insistently to open up new strips for prospecting for oil, the president said in a speech at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland : "I know we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate laws that will encourage new industries and millions of new jobs, protecting our planet and helping us become more energy independent."

His statement regarding the "protection of the planet" was immediately inversely prescient. Three weeks later, the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon platform (2) in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, caught fire and sank, killing eleven workers. As a sequel, it left an oil spill, which far from “encouraging new industries and millions of new jobs” contaminates the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, their wildlife refuges, fishing, and oyster and shrimp farms.

The British transnational responsible for the disaster has a long history as an exterminator of the future. On March 23, 2005, in an explosion at the British Petroleum refinery in Texas City, Texas, 15 contract workers were killed and 70 plant employees were among the more than 100 injured in the incident. The intense heat produced by the fire caused the explosion of several cars and trucks. The explosion affected many buildings and shattered the windows of houses located several kilometers from the plant.

Once the history of negligence in the maintenance of the Texas City refinery became known, BP was harshly criticized by the federal security agencies, which had not properly supervised the procedures of the oil company. An independent federal agency, the US Chemical Safety Board, accused it of cutting its safety and maintenance expenses to increase its profits. The US Congress, which was never characterized by its ecological sensitivity, also echoed the complaints. BP immediately responded that the negligence was the legacy Amoco engineers and executives. These, who had previously operated the plant, rejected the accusation.

John Browne, the chief executive of BP, had bought Amoco (3) in 1998 as part of a growth plan. To cut costs, Browne left hundreds of engineering positions that had left the company unreplaced and opted to increase its reliance on subcontractors. At the same time, it introduced a new corporate slogan "Beyond Petroleum" ("Beyond Petroleum") and replaced its logo with a green and yellow sun named after the Greek god Helios, in order to underline the supposed interest of the company. in alternative and cleaner fuels for the environment. The explosion of the plant in Texas City exposed the hypocritical "social responsibility" of the transnational.

In July 2005, the Thunder Horse platform (4) - a $ 1 billion BP project in the Gulf of Mexico 240 km southeast of New Orleans, where Exxon Mobil has a 25% stake - leaned 20 degrees after Hurricane Dennis. BP blamed design and engineering problems, not the hurricane, for the slope of the platform. With no fatalities, the accident warned about the continued indolence in the company with respect to safety regulations.

In March 2006, 267,000 gallons of crude oil (more than one million liters) were spilled from a nearly 1,300-kilometer Trans-Alaska Pipeline System pipeline, managed by BP. The disaster confirmed the denunciation of environmentalists opposed to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. Five months later, in early August 2006, there was a catastrophic rupture of a section of the pipeline belonging to the same reservoir in Prudhoe Bay.

On August 8, 2006, the US government ordered a temporary shutdown of all Alaska crude production, eliminating 8% of the daily US oil supply. Inspectors from the US Department of Transportation determined that the cause was "extreme corrosion" caused by cost cuts and insufficient maintenance of the pipelines. Following the Alaska oil spills, Congressional investigators heard testimony from a former BP Alaska engineer who said: "There is no question that cost cuts and profits have taken priority over safety and the environment. ambient". The company agreed to replace some 25 kilometers of pipelines and increase its maintenance expenses.

Tony Hayward's "reformist" measures

After four serious and foreseeable "accidents" in two years, the behavior of the company indicated it as a threat to the lives of its workers and a permanent environmental risk. The tripped circuit breaker was to retire John Browne who left the company in 2007.

Tony Hayward, Browne's successor, allegedly took office to reverse policies of cutting costs and outsourcing engineers and contractors. Yet profit continued to dictate behavior, and Hayward devoted himself to boosting production and maximizing profits. As a way to "radically simplify BP's structure," it laid off 6,500 workers and technicians, 10% of the company's total workforce. And it subcontracted smaller companies to drill the offshore platforms.

The first encouraging results of his management were in October 2009: BP beat analysts' forecasts by announcing a profit of $ 4.7 billion for the third quarter. A month earlier, the company had reported a gigantic find in the Gulf of Mexico. BP had also entered Iraq in 2009. The consortium obtained from the Iraqi puppet government the right to exploit the gigantic Rumalia field in southeastern Iraq, due to British complicity in the military aggression and occupation of the country. Likewise, BP was partnering with Petrobras in the drilling of the Santos basin, one of the most promising offshore exploration areas in the world. In January this year, BP's market value surpassed that of its competitor, Royal Dutch Shell for the first time in more than three years.

But on April 22, the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico threatened the "encouraging" economic performance of BP led by "reformer" Tony Hayward. Eleven workers killed and an oil slick larger than Jamaica, which continues to grow at a rate of 800,000 liters more per day, confirmed that British Petroleum's deadly and polluting record was returning strong. The disaster did not prevent a week after the explosion, the company announced earnings of more than 6,000 million dollars in the first quarter of 2010. Which highlights the irrefutable relationship between operational negligence and large profits.

In order not to break with the tradition of deflecting blame, a BP spokesman in London said that the company Transocean - a Swiss subcontractor on the rig - had full responsibility for drilling at Deepwater Horizon. "It is not appropriate for us to doubt Transocean", "It is not for BP to oversee the safety of the platform." Like other companies in the sector, BP did not require Transocean to install the so-called acoustic switch with which workers can activate an underwater safety valve that slows the uncontrolled flow of oil. Cost cutting was not advisable. For its part, US law does not require this important security implement. The consequences of this "saving" are dire for the Gulf of Mexico and its coasts.

Desperate intentions

BP had no planned alternative to the undersea safety valve it did not install and began by experimenting with a huge funnel-shaped concrete and steel container to plug the bore. The 98-ton metal dome placed to contain the spill had to be removed on Saturday, May 8, after it began to accumulate crystallized elements inside. The trick didn't work and the spill continued.

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said "We are building a smaller container that we call a 'top hat'. It would theoretically have less chance of being blocked by crystallized gas, because it will hold less amount of water inside," he added. . "This new structure could be ready for Tuesday or Wednesday"

They are also considering blocking the failed well with a "trash injection" that could be used to plug the check valve. Admiral Thad Allen of the US Coast Guard explained to CBS television: "In practice they are going to pick up a lot of debris, broken tires, golf balls and things like that, and they are going to inject them into the prevention mechanism. at very high pressure to try to block it and stop the oil seepage. " But experts have warned that any further damage to the faulty huge valve system could result in the crude being shot out at a rate twelve times faster than it is today.

Another of BP's strategies is to hire local fishermen to help with clean-up tasks, paying $ 1,500 a day, but they put a "gag" clause in the contract where they are required not to speak to the media.

In the area, experts from Greenpeace United States and Dr. Rick Steiner, a marine conservation specialist at the University of Alaska, are documenting the environmental impacts that the oil spill is generating on the sea surface. Dr. Steiner knows the damage caused by oil disasters like the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989.

Greenpeace denounced that the company, through a "dispersant", is mixing oil with seawater, and therefore, what can be seen from the coast or in overflights is only part of the disaster, the rest follows submerged. British Petroleum is using a dispersant known as Codexit, at the source of the spill, to prevent oil from rising to the surface. So far 1.2 million liters of chemical dispersant have been used. Steiner explains that this adds more toxicity to the already polluted area, causing further damage to marine life. When dispersants are not used, the oil reaches the shore and kills the birds as well; when used, it stays in the water and kills fish. It is important to note that killing the fish eventually means killing the birds as well, because the entire food chain is contaminated.

Albert Einstein (5) with admirable vision stated decades ago that "nowhere was really surpassed what Thorstein Veblen called the predatory phase of human development." And he added that since observable economic facts correspond to this phase, there is little light that economic science in its current state can shed on a future non-predatory society. His opinion is as valid for environmental disasters as it is for the economic-financial crisis that devastates the globalized world.

Juan Luis Berterretche - Press Correspondence - Uruguay


1- Twenty years ago the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil (about 40 million liters) into the uncontaminated waters of Prince William Sound in Alaska. The huge spill spread for 1,900 kilometers from the accident site and affected 5,150 kilometers of coastline and an area of ​​25,900 square kilometers in total. As a result, one million sea birds, 5000 sea otters, 300 Greenland seals and millions of young salmon and fish eggs died. Long term affected salmon fishing ended herring fishing in the area. In 1993 the fishing industry was bankrupt. The first compensation obtained in a jury for damages, reached 5,000 million dollars. Two decades later, after several appeals, the Supreme Court awarded 10% of the initial figure to the plaintiffs.

2- British Petroleum began its history in 1908 as Anglo Persian Oil Company in Iran where it discovered oil and undertook the construction of an oil complex and a refinery off the coast of Abadan which, in the 1920s, became the biggest in the world. Later it was called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. After the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq (1951), Great Britain, which owned 51% of the expropriated company, began negotiations with the US to overthrow Mossadeq and recover Iranian oil. The CIA bought General Fazlollah Zahedi and in a series of sainete operations overthrew Mossadeq on August 18, 1953. Great Britain regained much of its monopoly and the Iranians suffered from the ill-fated dictatorship of the Shah of Iran for more than 20 years. years. The criminal bungles of the CIA coup in Iran can be read in Legacy of Ashes - The CIA Story by Tim Weiner. Editorial Sudamericana, 2008.

3- Standard Oil (Indiana) was a company founded in 1889 by John D. Rockefeller and was part of the Standard Oil trust. In 1911, President Teodoro Roosevelt decided to apply the Antitrust Law or Sherman Law to the oil empire of the Rockefeller Family and its powerful company ESSO (Standard Oil) and split it into 11 large companies and 24 small sectorized companies. The company continued its operations under the name Standard of Indiana. In 1947, Standard of Indiana was the first company to drill offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. After several acquisitions and mergers, by 1971, all Standard of Indiana divisions carried the Amoco brand. The Standard of Indiana name was officially changed to Amoco Corporation in 1985. Two major company “accidents” occurred under the Amoco label. On March 16, 1978, the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker sank off the coast of Brittany in France, causing one of the largest oil spills in history. More than a decade later, Amoco was ordered to compensate the French state with a sum of 120 million dollars in ecological damages. On October 21, 1980, an explosion at an Amoco plant in New Castle, Delaware, killed six people, caused $ 46 million in damage and eventually resulted in the loss of 300 jobs.

4- Thunder Horse BP originally called Crazy Horse BP, changed the name after the Lakota spiritual leader told BP that using the glorious name of his ancestor outside of a spiritual context was sacrilege. Crazy Horse, chief of the Oglalas, along with warriors from other indigenous peoples of North America, defeated General George Custer and his bluecoats - exterminators of indigenous people - on the margins of Little Bighorn (Montana) in 1876.

5- Albert Einstein “Why Socialism?” (Why Socialism?) Monthly Review, New York, May 1949.

Video: The business of BP (June 2021).